That Time a Texan Neo-Nazi and a Russian Fascist Got Into a Room Together
Few people showed up for the 2015 confab
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
War Is Boring originally published a version of this story on April 30, 2015.
In a small room on the sprawling campus of Texas A&M University at College Station, the face of Russian demagogue Alexander Dugin appeared a screen, his voice booming over the P.A. system.
Beside a laptop, a Texan neo-Nazi worried that by organizing the lecture over Skype, he might have inadvertently violated U.S. sanctions on individuals alleged to be participating in the war in Ukraine.
“So I am under sanctions, but I don’t know the reason why,” Dugin said. “Because I have never promoted any kind of violence. I have never participated in any kind of violent conflicts.”
Legally, the April 29, 2015 talk was probably okay. But it didn’t do so well as an event. Only 16 people showed up to hear Dugin explain why “American Liberalism Must Be Destroyed,” per the event’s title.
Perhaps not surprisingly, at a Texas campus of nearly 50,000 students, an event with one of Russia’s premier fascist ideologues landed with a thud. But that was then. Nearly two years later in early 2017, an alliance between Russian and American far-right extremists tragically makes a lot more sense.
Even on the radical Russian right, Dugin is an odd duck. His politics fuse together extreme right and left-wing views — although more of the former than the latter.
He’s an intellectual and was a self-described anti-communist dissident in the 1980s. That’s when he joined the ultra-conservative Pamyat movement, and he later formed his own group — the Eurasia Party — in 2001.
He told the audience that Russian traditional values are under threat from American liberalism. His other stated views, which he didn’t share to this audience, is that Russia should create an authoritarian regime and massively build up its military — including its nuclear stockpile — to counter the United States.
Dugin insisted he’s no fascist and that he likes Americans quite a lot. But he was also speaking to an American audience — his talks to Russian audiences are drastically more militant — and he was keenly aware of the bad publicity surrounding him.
In March 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department added Dugin to its list of targeted sanctions imposed after the Russian invasion of Crimea. That prohibits American citizens from doing business with him. In Ukraine, he’s persona non grata.
Dugin has long touted his connections with senior officials in the Kremlin. Most of these claims are hard to substantiate. But his profile, influence and connections has led to the nickname “Vladimir Putin’s Rasputin” in the U.S. media — partially owing to Dugin’s bearded resemblance to the Tsarist-era mystic — although he said he’s never met the Russian president.
Rather, it looks like Putin might have sidelined … Dugin. He was a professor of sociology at Moscow State University, but lost his job in 2014 after he became an outspoken supporter of pro-Russian separatists fighting in Ukraine.
That’s hardly a taboo thing to do in Russia, but Dugin was too radical.
“I have lost my position in the university recently because for me there is no difference between Crimea and Donbass in the eastern Ukraine — Novorossiya — and for [the] political establishment, there is a difference,” Dugin said.
“[For the Russian government,] Crimea is considered to be part of Russia, and Donbass not part of Russia — or not now, maybe,” he added. “But at the same time, I’m declaring my position openly and after doing so, I was put under some pressure from Putin’s government. Because they don’t want to show this attitude openly or don’t share my vision … I could not say.”
Dugin complained about the U.S. sanctions, which he characterized as an attempt to squelch his ideas.
“I suppose maybe that was by mistake,” he said. But if a serious American government could make such serious steps as to put under sanctions [an] intellectual only for a reason of his texts and his words and pretending to say some lies that I have never mentioned … if so, it’s a very bad sign for the American political establishment.”
But Pres. Barack Obama’s White House alleged that Dugin’s paramilitary organization Eurasian Youth Union “had recruited Russians with combat experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine,” The New York Times reported.
“I am not involved in military action in Novorossiya,” Dugin said. “I’m supporting the creation of Novorossiya but it is my personal opinion. I am not part of the political establishment.”
But what the Hell is this guy all about? Dugin promotes an ideology he calls the Fourth Political Theory — which he said is distinct from communism, liberalism and fascism.
It’s complicated, but scholars who study Dugin’s work describe it as an evolution in fascist ideology, rather than something entirely new or different.
Political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov, perhaps the top expert on Dugin’s work in the West, traced Dugin’s ideology to French academic Alain de Benoist. De Benoist fused ideas from the radical right — mainly racism — with ideas from the radical left such as anti-capitalism and anti-globalization.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Nazism. Dugin doesn’t rule out building alliances with the radical left and Islamist regimes such Iran. In an act of philosophical whiplash, Dugin even insisted that liberalism — which includes American liberals and conservatives — is a racist ideology because it’s responsible for eroding a unique Russian identity.
Dugin has instead argued Russia should construct a highly-militarized “Eurasian empire” built along rigid ethnic lines. During his talk at Texas A&M, Dugin rejected “tolerance” and human rights as imported Western values.
He insisted Western liberalism could live in peace with Russia, provided it left Russia alone. But it’s hard to square this with his arguments that as long as liberalism exists in the West, conflict between the West and Russia is more or less inevitable.
According to political theorist Ronald Beiner, his talk of wanting peace serves as more of a smokescreen to conceal Dugin’s expansionist and totalitarian goals.
“Dugin aims, in fact, at a fusion of totalitarian ideologies, from fascism and even Nazism at one end to Marxism at the other end,” Beiner wrote at the blog Crooked Timber. “Yet his ideological roots are far closer to fascist and proto-Nazi sources … than they are to anything in the Marxist tradition — which is why both Dugin’s English-language publishers and the websites that are drawn to him belong to the ultra-Right.”
As if one cue, Dugin’s host at Texas A&M was none other than Preston Wigginton, a 50-year-old Texan in the pallet business and a notable far-right extremist. Wigginton is a prominent intermediary between the American and Russian ultra-nationalist scenes, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He’s no fan of the SPLC. But during an interview after Dugin’s talk, Wigginton — well-built and wearing a Mjölnir necklace — spoke about his travels to Russia, his politics and his friendships with leading figures in the country’s far right.
He turned to politics in the mid-2000s as an anti-immigration activist, and then built friendships with the Hammerskins — a white supremacist skinhead group — in America and later Russian national socialists after traveling there to find a wife. But he said he had never met Dugin before, and didn’t know much about him.
It’d be easy to hype this — that an American neo-Nazi is building ties with a Russian fascist doomsayer. That is true. But by the time Dugin started taking questions from the audience, the room had winnowed down from 16 to five, including one police officer.
There were a few audible groans during his talk. In 2015, that seemed to be indicative that Dugin’s vision of a Eurasian empire probably wouldn’t ever gain much support in America. In 2017, those expectations proved wrong.